The Regent Theatre in Melbourne has had three phases in its existence. It was
initially built as a grand picture palace for Frank Thring Senior's Hoyts
cinema chain. The design by Cedric H. Ballantyne was not intended as high
art but as a place to evoke fantastic faraway times and places to which
anyone could escape for the price of a ticket. As such it has endeared
itself to several generations of Melburnians.
The Regent opened on 15 March 1929 and in the manner of grand picture
palaces of the time was designed for a mixture of film and live
entertainment including a Wurlitzer organ. The Plaza Ballroom underneath had
been redesigned to cater for the new talking pictures and opened later the
The Regent Mark I ended abruptly with a disastrous fire on 28 April 1945
which completely destroyed the auditorium. Remarkably, the Plaza was hardly
damaged and with some sealing work was able to reopen soon afterwards.
The decision was made to rebuild the Regent. Some designs were changed
but the spirit of the original building was maintained and despite the
austerity of the times the Regent Mark II was reopened on 16 December 1947.
The organ was replaced and again the Regent could be marketed as 'The Palace
of Dreams'. However the advent of television and changing public tastes
during the 1960s were inevitably tolling the death knell of the great
picture palaces around Australia. Numbers of adaptations were made - the
Plaza briefly became a Cinerama cinema but by 1970 both the Regent and the
Plaza were closed and all the furniture and fittings auctioned off.
Then began a period when the deserted Regent became the centre of public
debate. it had been bought by the Melbourne City Council who had intended to
demolish it to create (or enlarge) a city square. However many Melbournians
wanted this piece of Melbourne's heritage to be maintained. Numbers of
groups became involved including building unions who placed a 'green ban' on
its demolition. Various uses for the building were mooted but in 1993 the
State Government and Melbourne City Council announced it would be rebuilt as
The newly refurbished theatre suitable for major theatre productions was
reopened on 19 August 1996 with the Plaza refurbished as a ballroom. It is
the Regent Mark III which now stands in Collins Street. It retains much of
its original character, and appropriately enough also has a Wurlitzer organ
Detailed information on the organ at the Regent Theatre can be found at
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